How long has Byzantine Music notation been used in Arabic speaking communities?


Μάρκελλος Πιράρ, Γενικός συντονιστής
Those interested in checking out this Melkite manuscript with musical notation, you can consult H. Husmann, Ein syro-melkitisches Tropologion mit altbyzantinischer Notation, Sinai syr. 261 (Göttingen, 1975).
See also H. Husmann, "Ein syrisches Sticherarion mit palaeobyzantinischer Notation (Sinai syr. 261)", Hamburger Jahrbuch fuer Musikwissenschaft, Bd. 1/1974 (Hamburg 1975), p. 9-57.
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Παλαιό Μέλος
One question I would like to ask is: Why is the quality of Arabic Byzantine music compositions so poor in general with regard to adherence to the formulaic and orthographical rules?

Mitri el-Murr's compositions don't adhere perfectly to the formulaic rules, but it at least appears to me that he made an effort. By and large, the majority of his compositions at least sound "Byzantine enough" and adhere to the spirit (if not the letter) of the formulaic rules. But as has been discussed, he has a tendency to introduce oriental influences, especially in his more elaborate compositions.

I have books by Dimitri Koutia and Elie Khoury which are just scandalous in comparison. In many cases, I can barely recognize the melodies as "Byzantine." The music in Fr Nicholas Malek's book of Psalms is similarly full of oriental influences. In all these cases, even when a "Byzantine" melody is used there are still numerous places where the formulaic rules are broken.

I also have a draft of Joseph Yazbeck's music for the Nativity Canon. Although the music seems to be free of "oriental influences" (in comparison to the other books I mentioned above), the formulaic rules are still broken frequently.

It is surprising to me that there would not be more awareness of this issue in an area where Byzantine music has been used for many decades. The quality of Byzantine music compositions in Romanian is far better, for example. Even in English, where Byzantine music has only recently appeared, there are a growing number of high-quality compositions.

To me, this issue is more important than vocal style, because the formulaic rules are such a basic building block of Byzantine melodies.

From what I can see, Mitri el-Murr has been the most successful to date in composing authentic Byzantine melodies that followed the formulaic rules. Nevertheless, there are many pieces he did not compose, and there is still room for improvement in the pieces that he did compose. It seems to me that no one has picked up where he left off. It is unfortunate, since there are so many more resources that could help with this task at the present time (for example, Papa Ephraim's collection of Byzantine music formulae).
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What you say is basically true, and it applies most to longer and slower pieces, from doxologies, to doxastika, to polyeleoi and psalms, polychronia, and such. For the most part, in terms of adherence to the original prosomoia and automela, they do a fair job (although, e.g., Malek's triodion pieces, including pieces such as Meth imwn o Theos and Kyrie twn dynamewn are heavily orientalized).

But the basic problem is that they (Murr included) don't see that composing pieces in makams is simply not part of the tradition, regardless what Pringos and Stanitsas have done. And yet, if you look at Malek's psalms, they are almost all composed in makams (which he regularly identifies at the top of the piece: nihavent, kurdi, hicazkar, acem, sabah etc.). You can hear examples of that here. Psalm 8:

Psalm 29:

This is deeply related to the held belief that there is a basic identity between the 8 modes and their "counterparts" in Ottoman makams (which they refer to as "Arabic music"). And so, liberties are taken in composition and phraseology. This is a politico-ideological issue as well that has become intertwined with a constructed Arab nationalist identity that they feel they must assert (vis a vis Greek), and in many ways is an extension of what Murr was doing early on (aside from church music, he composed nationalist hymns). It's a long, convoluted and ultimately pitiful story, where much ignorance is at play.

Furthermore, many psaltai are trained or go on to study classical Ottoman ("Arabic") music. George Abu Haidar of SEM and the Mt. Lebanon choir, for instance, is a good example. There are several others in the SEM choir who also do this. Fr. Malek himself has a background in this music and is an Oud player.

The issue of orthography is another issue, and I simply don't know what references are consulted. I know Greek theory books are readily available (there's a lot of travel back and forth to Greece) and have been consulted. I also know that there is awareness of certain orthographic rules, though how pervasive and thorough that awareness is, I don't know.

In many ways, that was the point of SEM's mission statement: to adhere more closely to original Greek formulaic lines and to contest the premise that the Arabic language cannot be 100% adapted to these lines. They set out to prove -- with considerable success -- that you can in fact chant in Arabic while adhering to the Greek musical lines. Hence the point of their concert with Idimelon, where the latter would chant a line in Greek and SEM one in Arabic of the same composition.

Another issue has been that the texts themselves were often translated to Arabic without a proper appreciation of their poetic nature in Greek, which is directly related to the prosomoia, for instance. So there is no poetic counterpart to the Greek in the current textbooks (menaion, octoechos, etc.) even as these books state the model automelon for each piece.

All these issues therefore require that a thorough overhaul of the existing texts, and the music books based on them. A massive project, that is.

You can get an idea of a Yazbeck composition here, in the item I am attaching. Again, the mixing of modes is itself testament to what we are talking about, despite a fairly serious knowledge of the music itself.

On a separate note, those who want to hear the troparion of Kassiani as it is found in Murr's book, you can see the choir led by Fr. Romanos Jibran perform it here:

Compare it with Symonidis, who about two thirds of the way into this recording, can be heard chanting the Arabic version:
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Παλαιό Μέλος
I always thought that one of the most outrageous examples of oriental influences in Mitri el-Murr's books was "The assembly of the law-transgressors" on page 139 of his Holy Week book. There is a cadence on ke, another on dhi, and then one on low dhi (!), followed by a cadence on high zo. You don't get a cadence on pa until the sixth line of the piece (!), and that is just the beginning. There's jumping from high pa to low pa, modulation to enharmonic grave mode, and all sorts of other craziness. I've attached a recording.

(This is not the norm for Murr. Most of the pieces in his Anastasimatarion employ fairly standard classical lines in comparison.)


You want craziness? Check out Murr's Axion Estin in Third mode.

But again, to be fair to Murr, in other instances he remained fairly faithful, and in some cases transferred some rather beautiful pieces (se ton anabalomenon, is a good example, all external influences notwithstanding. I'm attaching a version of it performed by the old Mt. Lebanon choir, before the Yazbeck-SEM era). His version of o angelos eboa qualifies as well. Here performed by (and, in one particular analysis, butchered by) SEM:

Also, here's Murr's grandson Elias performing an ecphonetic rendition of Simeron Gennatai:
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Παλαιό Μέλος
Mitri seems to like the variation of the phrase as in 02:04-02:25, which he puts in compositions and in places where it belongs to and where it doesn't :rolleyes:


Παλαιό Μέλος
A few videos of Egypt provenance:

Putting aside technical imperfections, this is the Greek influenced chanting in Arabic (the first and the last files seem to be Engomia, the fifth the slow Kekragarion of Iakovos Protopsaltis. The rest?).

Another file from Mt. Sinai:
Thanks. The first four files are the Anoixandaria, and it sounds similar to Murr's in fact. The last is Engomia.
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Παλαιό Μέλος
Thanks. The first four files are the Anoixandaria, and it sounds similar to Murr's in fact. The last is Engomia.
Thanks (I made some mistake when copying links, the first link of course doesn't sound like Engomia). When saying the chanting style is Greek, I had in mind the overall style and not so much the composition style.

I found a few more videos:

Simeron krematai (the Arabic version is in the second part of the file)

Parts of Easter service:


Παλαιό Μέλος
They were sent to me by Subdeacon Karim el-Far of California, who received them via private email from Mike Hourani. They are unpublished recordings as far as I know.